Saturday May 12, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON

I've been doing a lot of thinking about gambling.

Governors have been making the argument that people gamble, that they will always gamble, and that the taxpayers ought to get a piece of the action. They argue that people in their states will go to the nearest gambling casino -- be that in their own state or in a nearby state. They argue that gambling is just another form of entertainment and that grown-ups should be allowed to be entertained.

They argue that new gambling casinos will bring added jobs. They argue that adjoining businesses and neighborhoods will make out with increased business. They argue that even if gambling is an addiction, it can be countered by offering potential addicts an opportunity to go into gambling therapy. They argue that the money brought in to state coffers will mean that taxes don't have to be raised.

That's what they argue.

On the other hand, people who are opposed to gambling argue that gambling is a terrible addiction. They say that people are tempted to take whatever money they have and spend it once they become addicted.

This leaves children who depend on whatever is brought in without the limited resources that they depend on for even a limited quality of life. It leaves some families without rent money or milk money or grocery money. Those opposed argue that the state has to take moral leadership.

They say that if the state takes the easy way out and promotes gambling, they will be on a slippery slope. They say if the way to bring in money is gambling, then how long can it be before they are tempted to establish houses of prostitution? They say that communities that have expected to reap the benefits of gambling casinos have ended up with devastated communities that had to add to their police force and to find places to house those unfortunates who lost it all.

They point to the neighborhoods around gambling emporiums that have fallen into disrepair. They ask whether you would really want a gambling emporium in your neighborhood.

In nearby New York state, the people will be asked to amend their constitution, and you can bet that the governor, the gambling lobbyists, the big money that want to get in on the action will rev up the propaganda machine to make it happen. Those opposed will find it hard to counter the TV, print and radio ads in favor of gambling. My bet is that it will be close, but that people will intuitively reject the idea.

The economic development people, particularly in the Catskills, will suggest that places that need the help should benefit from the new emporiums. I am sure that people will argue that Springfield should have a casino, and how long will it be before someone argues that Pittsfield should have one? That should cause some concern among our friends at the Brien Center that treats the addicted.

If you speak with people from communities that have such gambling havens, I will bet you the people are concerned. When you are addicted to gambling, you need a place to pawn your valuables that belong to you or to someone else. My bet is that you'll see the growth of the pawn shop industry and all that goes with it.

Some religious groups have taken the lead in opposing gambling. Of course, if you have casinos, it might put a dent into the Bingo take. One wonders whether we are dealing with moral concerns or with potential competitors for the almighty dollar.

Of course, when you establish gambling casinos, you are taxing the poor. We already do it with our lotteries, and I have certainly seen places where people who can't afford it fork over huge amounts of cash to get in on the lottery or scratch-off game. The fact is that it is much easier for politicians to raise money this way than to raise the taxes on those folks who can most afford it. Nope, gambling is not the way to go.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.